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Execution Plan
Patrick Thompson
HarperCollins paperback £6.99

review by Steven Hampton

Mick is a computer programmer. A child of the 1970s, he's a perpetual loner and socially inept collector of techno junk, clearly traumatised by some painful incident in his past (the particulars of which are not fully revealed until the story's tragicomic climax), and stuck with the type of personality that's a magnet for emotional and psychological problems. His best and only friend in the world is the mysterious Dermot, a roguish and sharp-tongued yet amiable schemer with a brusque attitude to life, who seems unable to exist at all without regular contact with Mick.
   Then we have the headshrinkers Tina and Roger. Tina was Mick's onetime girlfriend, and knows important stuff about Mick's past that he's apparently chosen to forget. Mick and Dermot share a passion for arcade and PC games, and Mick begins to experience sinister and disturbing hallucinations that threaten his sanity. Do these digital visions have any connection to a psychological experiment that Mick was involved in during his student days?
   Although, at times, clearly inspired by plot elements from The Matrix and Cronenberg's quasi-philosophical eXistenZ, this is an unassuming contemporary cyber-thriller with keenly humorous elements that read like a tongue-in-cheek mix of early Greg Egan and latter-day M. John Harrison. Its absurdly comic virtual and exactingly detailed factual worlds have a tendency to overlap, both inside and outside of the hero's head. And with the author's frequently amusing first-person narration, we are rarely certain of what is supposed to be true or false in terms of the storyline. However, such ambiguity remains perfectly understated throughout, making Execution Plan an engaging borderline-SF page-turner without inducing any head scratching puzzlement or a need for confused doublethinks.
   Part of the fun here is the author's descriptive flair regarding British lifestyles of the last 25 years. From undomesticated student years to middle-class boredom, from the West Midlands to North Wales, Patrick Thompson winningly sketches out the passage of time with charming episodic adventures for his likeable and well-rounded characters, so Execution Plan a hugely enjoyable novel for both science fiction readers and fans of postmodern fiction.

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